Carpal Tunnel: A Leading Cause of Occupational Injury

Carpal tunnel syndrome

When to file a workers’ compensation claim for carpal tunnel

Carpal tunnel is a common workplace injury, but it’s sometimes overlooked because symptoms appear gradually. If you perform repetitive motion tasks like typing, slicing food, or even many hours of driving a vehicle, a carpal tunnel diagnosis might make you eligible for workers’ compensation. See what to do and when to call a lawyer.

Do your hands ever feel not quite right, but you’re not sure why? You might be experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that occurs when the tissue around a tunnel in the wrist becomes swollen and crowds the nerve. Symptoms of carpal tunnel include:

  • Numbness, tingling, burning, or pain in the thumb and fingers
  • Shock-like sensation that radiates to thumb, ring, index, and middle fingers
  • Pain or tingling traveling from forearm to shoulder
  • Weakness in the hand that affects fine motor skills (tasks like working clothes buttons)
  • Loss of coordination and dropping items because of weakness or numbness (“prioception” is awareness of where your hand is in space)

Most patients find that carpal tunnel symptoms occur gradually and become more severe over time. It’s also common to experience symptoms at night and discomfort that awakens you from sleep.

Carpal tunnel affects 3 to 6 percent of the adult population. Women are 3 times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome because their carpal tunnel is smaller, and it’s a common condition during pregnancy. Individuals with diabetes or other metabolic disorders that affect nerves are also higher risk.

Why is carpal tunnel often considered a workplace injury?

Not all carpal tunnel is caused in the workplace, but it’s a repetitive motion injury, which means it’s often the result of performing repetitive tasks with the hands and arms.

These are a few examples of tasks that can cause carpal tunnel in the workplace:

  • Pushing, slicing, or applying pressure (for example, a kitchen worker who slices food)
  • Typing or other computer functions
  • Using a cash register
  • Assembly line work (or tasks like meat, poultry, or fish packing)
  • Construction tasks like jackhammering or operating a chainsaw
  • Cleaning
  • Driving a motor vehicle

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a recent article with new statistics and information about carpal tunnel and who’s most affected.

Professions at highest risk for carpal tunnel

  • Apparel manufacturing
  • Food processing
  • Administrative work
  • Telephone operators
  • Cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop counter attendants
  • Electrical, electronics, and electromechanical assemblers
A woman whose job is clothing manufacturing, food processing, and administrative work is at risk for carpal tunnel. Will workers compensation help?
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Can I get workers’ compensation for carpal tunnel?

Whether you can get workers’ compensation for carpal tunnel depends on the state where you work. Some states treat the condition as an “accident” and others call it an “occupational disease.”

Many states include occupational diseases under workers’ compensation the same as any other injury. In those states, you’d have to prove that you suffered from carpal tunnel because your work activities made you more likely to have the condition than the average person who doesn’t engage in those activities.

If your state only allows workers’ compensation for an accident and not an occupational disease, you’d need to prove your carpal tunnel claim differently. The legal definitions of “accident” and “injury” could depend on your state. If carpal tunnel syndrome is an “accident” in your state, you’d need to prove the condition was caused by a specific event or incident.

Enjuris tip: Did you know that workers’ compensation and personal injury laws can vary depending on where you live? Visit our State Personal Injury Guides page and select your state to review what the laws are near you.

Your employer might try to show that your carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of factors outside the workplace. For example, if you have arthritis or diabetes—two conditions that increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing carpal tunnel—your employer’s insurance company might claim the condition isn’t a result of a workplace injury.

It’s not just about your physical conditions, though—you might be asked about what you do outside of work. If you’re a tennis player, pianist or other musician, frequently carry young children or babies, or engage in other activities that put strain on your arms and wrists, it can be hard to prove that carpal tunnel is the result of your job.

Enjuris tip: According to the CDC: “Workplace ergonomic interventions that modify tasks, workstations, tools, and equipment can decrease known ergonomic hazards and prevent workplace injuries, including [carpal tunnel syndrome].”

What workers’ compensation covers for carpal tunnel

There are both surgical and non-surgical methods for treating carpal tunnel. Non-surgical methods include:

  • Wrist splints
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that include Advil, Motrin, and others
  • Corticosteroids (steroids like prednisone or cortisone injected into the site)
  • Avoiding repetitive motion activities or taking frequent breaks

If workers’ compensation covers your carpal tunnel treatment, you can receive:

  • Medical treatment costs (including surgery) or medication
  • Lost wages prior to surgery and during recovery
  • Ongoing treatment like physical therapy
  • Temporary or permanent disability benefits

What to do if workers’ compensation DOESN’T cover carpal tunnel

Workers’ compensation is designed to benefit both the employee and the employer. If you’re the injured employee, a workers’ compensation settlement provides funds to cover expenses for treatment and lost wages. It’s an exclusive remedy, which means you can’t make additional claims or file a lawsuit related to this injury.

If you filed a workers’ compensation claim for carpal tunnel and your employer’s insurance company is unwilling to settle, it’s time to find a workers’ compensation lawyer. A claim dispute is tricky, and laws vary by state. A carpal tunnel claim is less clear-cut than other workplace injuries because it occurs gradually and can be the result of risk factors outside the workplace. As a result, it’s hard to prove you’re entitled to workers’ compensation.

The Enjuris Guide to Workers’ Compensation answers all your questions about when workers’ compensation covers your injury and if you need an attorney. You can also see workers’ compensation specifics in your state to determine what comes next.

Workers’ compensation insurance can be a great solution, but the system isn’t always perfect. Your workers’ compensation lawyer will guide you through what can be a complicated process and help reach your desired outcome.